Well, at least for one episode. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be looking at some recent (and not-so-recent) series’ pilots – some successful, some less so.
Kicking off with the 2005 Warner Brother’s Global Frequency pilot. This is a timely revisit, with Jerry Bruckheimer revealing his intent to get a third version off the ground only last month (a second effort only made it to the scripting stage in ’09). I’ve already tipped my hand on this, so it’s no spoiler to say that in my eyes, this is a pretty perfect adaption of the 12 issue Warren Ellis comic mini-series.
It doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel; we’re drawn in to the plot via an audience surrogate, followed by a ‘here’s the premise’ info-dump introducing the rest of the main cast, and then we’re off to the races. It’s nothing new, but it’s done so slickly you don’t notice. It’s no surprise that this set-up transferred so well to TV; a situation-specific, hand picked team of expert agents drawn together by a shadowy secret organisation to save the world; it’s basically the 60s Mission Impossible TV show rewritten for the 21st Century. Sadly though, like the re-invented Mission Impossible films themselves, the show can’t fully commit to the idea of a rotating cast, and should the full series have made it to air, the Mulder-and-Scully-esque, created-especially-for-the-TV-show leads (Josh Hopkins and Jenni Baird, from Cougar Town and The 4400 respectively) would have been our regular point of view characters. They’re likeable enough however, and satisfyingly ask the minimum of stupid questions, impressive for a genre show on network television. There’s a realism to it (within the confines of the sci-fi premise) that works.
The main cast from the comic are also well selected; genre stalwart Michelle Forbes being born to play Miranda Zero, and Aimee Garcia really bringing the under-developed Aleph to life. The Miranda Zero of the comics is the archetypal Warren Ellis prolocutor – an all powerful puppet-master who always knows what to do, when to do it, and who to kill to make it happen. His shadowy behind-the-scenes controllers are there to make the hard decisions, and they appear in so many of his books; Henry Bendix and The High in Stormwatch, Jenny Sparks in The Authority, (Nick Fury stand-in) Dirk Anger from Nextwave, Elijah Snow from Planetary… they’re the powers behind the thrones, and they all manipulate those under them to get the job done.
It’s something Ellis keeps returning to, and when he lets it work, he makes it look like this right-of-center, Jack-Bauer-operating-manual viewpoint is an effective one. These characters are the ones that would have killed Hitler as a baby, and then burned down the whole hospital just to make sure. However, on paper, he’s rarely let it succeed in the long term – Bendix and Anger both proved that absolute power does indeed corrupt absolutely and lost their minds, and The High was put down by Bendix himself in the act of killing thousands to save millions. In fact, speaking of the original Mission Impossible series, it’s interesting to note that the movie franchise version kicked off with bringing old team-leader Jim Phelps back as a power crazed madman as well.
Ellis’ big-brother archetype is rarely confined solely to their volcano lair/satellite base/Tracy Island/Batcave, and he’s also keen on showing them getting their own hands dirty as either a last resort, or in shielding their team from some of the more gruesome realities of the espionage game. Miranda Zero is no exception, and it’s a wonderful thing watching Michelle Forbes channel her inner Trinity-from-the-Matrix in a expensive looking and well choreographed action setpiece. In this moment she’s every inscrutable kick-ass Ellis archetype blended into one dangerous blur of black leather.
The second of the two characters borrowed from the source material isn’t a particularly new angle for Ellis either. All of his networked-up, sassy, cyberpunk, twenty-something riot grrrl’s are rolled up in Aleph, the Global Frequency switchboard operator. She’s being played somewhat as a lighter foil against the rest of the team, and it’s a successful performance. She comes over as both likeable and extremely competent – the moment we see her dial in 10 Global Frequency agents, speaking to each in their native language, is very, very cool.
The pilot ends with the world saved, and the team (presumably) ready to face a rolling series of monster-of-the-week type threats. Whether we’d have ever seen any longer story arcs, we’ll never know, as following the episode’s initial unauthorised appearance on the internet (soon after filming), Warner’s declined to pick the show up for a full run. The closest thing we have to an official reason (from Ellis himself) suggests that the leak put WB’s nose out of joint to the point that they refused to go ahead. This doesn’t sound entirely plausible, and I suspect there were a few more reasons behind the scenes for the axing. It’s a real shame we didn’t even get a full season out of the show – one and done would have been appropriate considering the length of the source material, and however good the new version is, I’ll be sad that this cast won’t get another stab at it. Of course, it remains to be seen if a TV show with a science fiction premise tying together global connectivity, crowd sourcing and smart mobs, originally conceived in 2001, can still find relevance today in a world of twitter, smart phones and 4G.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be checking out the pilots for The Dresden Files and The River (both featuring Arrow’s Paul Blackthorne) and The CW’s The 100. Drop me a line in the comments if there’s anything else you think I should be looking at before the current round of genre shows come back from their holiday hiatus’.
Jim Stafford might be the newest THN Love Slave but, honestly, who can keep track?!